Ask Not If Your Idea Can Make Money, Ask If It Can Help Humans.

A common refrain that I hear from individuals at some of the companies that we’ve worked with in the past (and some prospects who ultimately decide not to work with us) is that we are experts at generating ideas, but most of those ideas simply do not have a business model – which is, of course, a fancy way of saying “we can’t figure out how to make any money with this idea”.

It may be totally groundbreaking, disruptive and even unique enough to be patentable, but right now, we can’t imagine how to monetize it. That’s a normal thought – many organizations today are subject to this malady – applying the business models of today to the ideas of the future. The ideas may be generated based on some assumptions of a predicted future – and you have to think – is this idea going to have a business model in the future – not today. Sometimes its difficult to imagine.

However, if the idea has merit (and you can easily tell this actually – you can do customer focus groups but in many cases, it can be as simple as a gut feel) it may not have a current business model.

The ideas that your employees will generate during our typical program run the gamut from incremental improvements (which can be everything from minor to major improvements to your bottom line – or customer satisfaction – over time) to truly out-there ideas.

In many cases, the reason that those ideas are considered “out-there” is that they currently lack a current business model, or they pre-suppose a predicted sea change in your customers, industry, technology or product/service mix which may or may not occur. Many of the biggest companies of today launched products in just that environment, hoping that once the idea was made real and launched into the world, then the market would find a business model for it.

This is one reason why many firms around here are funded and remain profitless for years until they find the right business model. Notable examples are Twitter (initially developed as a way for podcasters to let their listeners know that there is a new show available) and Snapchat (for kids to share their test answers with each other in the classroom), now valued in the billions – created to address a need, to help humans, not make money.

I doubt that the founders of Twitter and Snapchat ever even imagined that their little skunkworks or side project would ever become what it is today. Many of the ideas generated by our programs may fall into this category, but that does not mean that you shouldn’t pursue them.

If you are looking for truly disruptive innovation, you should be encouraging these sometimes-thought-of-as wild ideas, possibly bereft of profitability, because those are the ones that may not only end up being brand new billion-dollar businesses, they’ll also drive your culture to generate even more of them, eventually turning you into a company with innovation at its core.

So ask not if your idea can make money, ask if your ideas help humans first, then the money will follow.

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